Monday, December 1

I-35 near SAMMC - traffic shifts and lighting issues

Last month Lane Construction shifted the southbound lanes of I-35 near Rittiman Road to the right about 40-60 feet, creating some room to work in the center median area. Let's talk about that for a few minutes, and see what - exactly - that really means for folks.

With traffic shifted to the right, Lane can build what will be the southbound main lanes of I-35 - three lanes that will hug the northbound lanes until they pass under the new connector ramp to southbound I-410. The lanes traffic are driving on will eventually roll into the new direct connector, but for now they'll be used to access the existing ramp.

Work on the new southbound main lanes should take Lane only a few weeks to complete, and if everything goes well enough (including weather) they hope to shift traffic back to the left - onto the permanent main lanes - to allow work on the tie-in for the new direct connector.

The switch planned for next month also means traffic on southbound I-35 exiting to southbound I-410 will use the right side - permanently - as the road currently in use will serve as exit lanes to southbound I-410.

Is that about clear as mud? Perhaps a brief video will help with visualization:

Overall, the concentration of work is between George Beach and Rittiman Road - Lane is pushing to have the new direct connector, along with all the other ramp adjustments, finished and in play at this area by the end of 2015. Meanwhile, work continues in the Crestway-Thousand Oaks area at the north end of the project.

That leads us to another issue. Recently some have questioned the lack of lighting along the I-35 corridor between Randolph Boulevard and Rittiman Road.

At the end of summer - about three months ago - a string of center median lights between Randolph and Rittiman were cut by Lane Construction to construct some of the retaining walls for the widened highway. This includes the lights that normally shine on the large, green, reflective overhead highway signs in the area. The conduit needs to be moved, and that will take place as soon as the wall is finished.

In the meantime, as a response to the public inquiries, we're looking at pricing for some temporary lighting solutions - something we wouldn't ordinarily do for a section of road like this. Highway lighting along the median is actually not considered safety lighting, which is why you don't see constant strings of light fixtures along the 900-plus miles of I-10 in Texas or the 500-plus miles of I-35 in Texas. Highway signs are designed to reflect light that is cast on them directly, giving them maximum visibility when your headlights hit them.

For the record, we've actually seen a decrease in crashes on this segment of I-35 since the lights were cut off: Crash data collected by local law enforcement shows that in  August-October of this year, we've had a 1.04  percent drop in wrecks over the same period of 2013. Sure, a 1 percent drop isn't huge ... but it's still a drop in crashes. By the way, since construction began in November 2013 crashes overall are trending downward. What's more, the crashes are becoming less severe: in August-October this year, 73 percent of crashes were non-injury; in that same time period last year just 70 percent were non-injury wrecks.

At any rate, we hope that sets the record straight a little.